By Kevin J. Sabo For the Advance
Stigma, as defined by Google, is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
Despite the increasing acknowledgment and awareness of mental health issues in our society, stigma surrounding mental illness remains high, and isolating.
Thanks to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, I had the opportunity to help break the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness during their Headstrong Mental Health Summit for youth leaders on Oct. 24th.
Around 100 junior-high kids from around the region met in Stettler for a full-day of information and activities designed to further increase awareness of this important topic.
Because of my history with mental illness, I was asked to share my story, in a nerve-wrenching experience. It was the first time I have shared my story in that kind of venue; however, with the topic being discussed it was a story I was happy to share.
During Headstrong, the assembled students were able to listen to an inspiring keynote address given by someone who lives with mental health struggles every day.
After the keynote I had the opportunity to share my story. The students were broken into smaller groups of around 15 students each, where a discussion was had about mental illness and its public perception today.
After that brief discussion, I, and a few other speakers, were invited to share our stories with the smaller groups.
After we concluded a comparison was made to see what perceptions were before and after we spoke. In the group I was with, the difference between the before and after perception was significant. The attitudes perpetuated by what they have seen on television or in the newspaper were shattered.
I’ve battled with mental illness my entire adult life, and I have faced my own share of stigma along the way.
I’ve lost jobs once employers knew of my mental health struggles.
What it comes down to is a lack of education and empathy in the community. This is highlighted by the treatment people receive when they break a leg versus the treatment they receive when they admit to struggling with an issue such as depression.
Meanwhile, the youth who participated in this summit were left with a different perspective on mental health by the end of the day, and the hope is they can carry that knowledge with them back to their schools and further break down the stigma still faced by many in society.
Programs such as Headstrong are important tools in increasing awareness around the issues those that suffer with mental illness face; however, they aren’t the only ones.
Several programs aimed at adults are presented in the region throughout the year as well and provide invaluable information on this dark, and often ignored, topic.
For those suffering with mental illness, the knowledge around the illnesses is increasing, and the stigma is being eroded away slowly but surely.
However, we are a far cry from where we could be.
If you are in crisis, you can call the crisis line at 1-877-303-2642, call 911, or go to your local emergency department.